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Gillian Anderson is bidialectal — what that means and how she got her accents

Anderson has a rare ability to fluently switch between accents.
/ Source: TODAY

What is Gillian Anderson’s accent in real life? The answer is … it depends.

Fans of Netflix’s “The Crown” will recall Anderson’s marvelously posh British accent when she played Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

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Anderson nailed Thatcher's signature, raspy voice and elite British accent.
Anderson nailed Thatcher's signature, raspy voice and elite British accent.Des Willie / Netflix

However, as any “X-Files” fans will recall, the actor had a pitch-perfect American accent when she played Dana Scully throughout the sci-fi show’s 11 seasons.

So, is her real accent British or American? The answer is actually both. Anderson is bidialectal, which means having a “facility in using two dialects of the same language,” according to Merriam-Webster.

Anderson can effortlessly use both an American and a British accent because she spent time in both countries growing up. She was born in Chicago and moved to London at age 5, according to The Guardian. She moved back to Michigan when she was 11 and by then, she had spent enough time in both the U.S. and Britain to fluently switch between accents.

“It goes back and forth because I grew up in both places, so it depends on who I’m talking to,” Anderson said in a recent interview with Scott Lawrence on YouTube. “So usually when I'm talking to Brits, it slides into British, and vice versa for American.”

She has also said she makes a conscious decision to speak in an American or a British accent, depending on the context.

“I sometimes do need to decide — if there's an American on the line and I'm living in the U.K., it's really difficult for me not to fall into an American accent because of growing up there in my later years,” she told NPR’s Terry Gross last year. “And so it is a conscious decision in that regard. I have to be careful if there are two — if there's an American and a Brit that I'm doing an interview with because I end up sounding somewhere in between, in the middle, because my ears are picking up on different things.”

Anderson’s ability to switch between accents made headlines recently at the Golden Globes. Many fans who only knew her British accent in “The Crown” were stunned to hear her speak in an American accent as she accepted her award for best supporting actress in a TV series.

The confusion over her accent caught the attention of Alec Baldwin, who retweeted a CNN article about it called, “Gillian Anderson’s American accent throws some people off.”

"Switching accents ? That sounds...fascinating,” Baldwin tweeted, according to a recap from E! (Baldwin has since deactivated his Twitter account).

His tweet likely referred to a recent controversy surrounding his wife, Hilaria Baldwin. She has faced allegations in recent months of faking her Spanish accent and heritage.

She has denied this claim multiple times, taking to social media to explain her bilingual and bicultural upbringing.

“I’ve seen chatter online questioning my identity and culture,” she wrote in the caption of one Instagram video in December. “This is something I take very seriously,and for those who are asking— I’ll reiterate my story, as I’ve done many times before. I was born in Boston and grew up spending time with my family between Massachusetts and Spain. My parents and sibling live in Spain and I chose to live here, in the USA. We celebrate both cultures in our home—Alec and I are raising our children bilingual, just as I was raised.”

In a later Instagram video, Alec Baldwin clarified that his tweet about “switching languages” was not meant at all as an insult.

“The person I was referring to (in the tweet) is somebody I am a huge fan of, a huge, huge fan of,” Baldwin said, appearing to refer to Anderson. “And that comment was meant to just illustrate the point that I find, as I said, that the multicultural expressions of anyone, for that matter, whatever country, language, music, food, clothing, art, any of it … whatever of those expressions are important to you, that’s your business.”

He added that he was “sending a message out to the actress that was the subject of my comment” and said “it was not meant at all to be offensive. I completely understand people who live in two countries and experience traveling.”